Norms For Data Use and Publication

This document describes the VertNet norms for data publication and use. This is NOT a legal document or contract. This IS a well-considered code of conduct that anyone who publishes data to or uses data downloaded from VertNet are expected to uphold. When you adopt these norms, you will both model a much needed set of ethical behaviors and help us to build a vibrant community intended to support efforts to make biodiversity data as complete, discoverable, and accessible as possible.

VertNet wishes to acknowledge Canadensys for their efforts to develop the norms upon which this document is based.

What We Believe

  • Biodiversity data should be as complete, discoverable, and accessible as possible.
  • Biodiversity data should be standardized so they can be aggregated, shared, and used as easily as possible.
  • Factual data in the VertNet Guide to Copyright and Licenses for Dataset Publication cannot be protected by copyright and should be committed to the Public Domain (see, What Can be Protected by Copyright and Licensing).
  • Any licenses used to protect compilations or datasets (when applicable) should be licensed using standardized, machine-readable licenses, such as licenses from the Creative Commons. The ideal is for all datasets be published under the designation of the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) waiver to affirm clearly that the data are in the public domain.
  • Data publishers have the right to protect any creative content, including, but not limited to images, sound files, videos, and descriptive/speculative text, where applicable.
  • The licensing and waiver process should be as simple as possible for data publishers and for users (results may vary from collection to collection).
  • All data publishers should get the credit they deserve when the data they curate are used by others.
  • It is worth the time and effort to achieve these goals to the greatest extent possible.

The Norms

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

As is common practice in scientific research, cite the resources you are using. VertNet data publishers have invested considerable time, resources, and effort into collecting, digitizing, maintaining, and publishing the biodiversity information you are using. They deserve credit for their work. We have provided recommended formats for citation at the end of this document.

Be Responsible

Use the data responsibly. Data are published to VertNet and other biodiversity portals to allow you and everyone else to better study and understand the world in which we live. It is your responsibility to use these data for the benefit of our collective health, knowledge, and self-improvement. Avoid using these data in any way that is unlawful, harmful, or misleading. Please understand that these data are subject to change, error, and bias. When giving credit where credit is due, protect the reputation of the data publisher and indicate clearly any changes you may have made to the data.

Share Knowledge

Let VertNet data publishers and the broader community know if — and how — you have used data from the network. Sharing helps:

  • VertNet to understand value of this project to you and the community and to create better tools and services for your use.
  • Data publishers to showcase their efforts and encourages them to continue to improve data quality and maintenance of collections.
  • You and your work reach a wider audience through an expanded presence. (Yes, we publicize and celebrate the work that people do with data published through VertNet.)
  • Everyone - data publishers, bioinformatics projects, and researchers - to raise the money needed to keep the data, products, services, and research alive.

You can contact us or share your work with any member of the VertNet team directly.

Communicate with the data publisher(s) directly. Let them know if you have comments or questions, notice errors, or want more information about the data they publish. We've provided you with three ways to start a conversation:

  • Post an issue directly from the VertNet data portal. It's simple and we've posted instructions on our blog.
  • Contact the data publisher directly using the contact information provided within each dataset published through VertNet via the Publishers page on the VertNet portal.
  • Use the feedback form provided at the top of every VertNet web page.

Respect the Data License or Waiver

Understand and respect the data license or waiver under which the data are published. Whenever possible, VertNet places selected licenses and waivers in the rights field of every record and in the dataset metadata. In some cases, data publishers have published using non-standard terms of use. These terms could be located in many possible locations in the dataset, so please review the data fully before you use it.

To help data publishers make the best decision about how to license or waive rights to their datasets, and to help data users understand the waivers and licenses, we have created the VertNet Guide to Copyright and Licenses for Dataset Publication. Most of the data publishers who have selected a recommended Creative Commons license or waiver dedicated their data to the public domain using the Creative Commons Zero waiver (CC0).

Do not remove the public domain mark or provide misleading information about the copyright status.

Data Publication Conditions

We invite any institution with biological or natural history collections (not just vertebrate collections) to join our growing community of data publishers. To publish data to the VertNet network you will need:

  • Digitized biological or natural history data.
  • The desire to share your data with scientists, researchers, educators, and others around the world.
  • A willingness to maintain and improve your data over time.

If you have all three, or if you have questions, please contact VertNet’s support team and we’ll get you and your data started on the path to publication and discovery.

Preferred Citations

In the absence of a citation practice that takes precedence, we recommend the following preferred formats to use when citing data published through VertNet. Square brackets denote values that must be obtained either from records within a dataset or from the description of the dataset. A glossary of terms used in square brackets is given at the end of the Preferred Citations section.

Single dataset

General Format
[dataset name]. [data publisher]. [link to dataset] (accessed on [date])
Cowan Tetrapod Collection at the University of British Columbia Beaty Biodiversity Museum (UBCBBM). University of British Columbia. (accessed on 2014-07-28)

Aggregated data (from multiple datasets)

Cite each data publisher in the aggregate using the single dataset citation format described above.

Cowan Tetrapod Collection at the University of British Columbia Beaty Biodiversity Museum (UBCBBM). University of British Columbia. (accessed on 2014-07-28)
Field Museum of Natural History (Zoology) Bird Collection. Field Museum. (accessed on 2014-07-28)
University of Kansas Bird Collection. University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute. (accessed on 2014-07-28)

Single specimen/observation record

VertNet includes the text of a record citation in the bibliographicCitation field in the record itself for all data publishers who provide this information. If the record has a value in the bibliographicCitation field, construct the full citation by appending information about the date the data were accessed. If the record does not contain a value for bibliographicCitation, use the appropriate format described below.

If the bibliographicCitation is provided in the record:
[bibliographicCitation] (accessed on [date])
urn:catalog:CM:Herps:105730. Carnegie Museum of Natural History Herpetology Collection. Carnegie Museums. (accessed on 2014-07-28)
If there is no bibliographicCitation, but occurrenceID is provided in the record:
[occurrenceID]. [dataset name]. [data publisher]. [link to dataset] (accessed on [date])
urn:catalog:CM:Herps:105730. AMNH Mammal Collection. American Museum of Natural History. (accessed on 2014-07-28)
If there is no bibliographicCitation or occurrenceID provided in the record:
[catalogNumber]. [dataset name]. [data publisher]. [link to dataset] (accessed on [date])
105730. Field Museum of Natural History (Zoology) Bird Collection. Field Museum. (accessed on 2014-07-28)

Where can I find the elements to create a citation?

All the elements can be found in fields contained within downloaded records or in the description of the dataset (i.e., the metadata) from which the record originates:

  • [bibliographicCitation]: in the field bibliographicCitation in the record.

  • [occurrenceID]: in the field occurrenceID in the record.

  • [catalogNumber]: in the field catalogNumber in the record.

  • [dataset name]: This is listed as the Resource Citation (under Citations) in the dataset metadata (published as an EML file in a Darwin Core archive) and can also be found under Citation on the Rights tab in the record detail in the VertNet portal. If the Resource Citation is missing, use the Title of the resource in the dataset metadata, also found under Resource on the Rights tab in the record detail in the VertNet portal.

  • [data publisher]: This is listed as the Organisation in the dataset metadata and under Organisation on the Rights tab in the record detail in the VertNet portal. It is not in downloaded records.

  • [link to dataset]: in the field [dataSource] in the record. If dataSource is missing, use the Source URL on the Rights tab in the record detail in the VertNet portal.

NOTE: These norms may be subject to minor revisions without notice; major revisions will be announced on the VertNet web site, data portal, blog and social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus).

If you have any questions about this document, please contact VertNet's support team.

Visit our Help page for more resources created for the VertNet project.

If you'd like to adapt these norms to your own project or work, please fork our norms repository on GitHub.

Orig Release, 12Sept2014 (David Bloom)